By pro baseball player, Chase Lambin
It’s that time of year again, time to pack up my bow and all my camo and head up north to Central Illinois to hunt with one of my best friends, Shane Drawe. (Shane left Texas to start his own home building company in Illinois. I have known Shane for over fifteen years and we both share a burning passion for hunting whitetails. He is also one of the funniest people I know.) He owns 50 acres about 50 miles west of Peoria. His property is in the middle of some of the most prime whitetail hunting land in the world.
Hunting in Illinois is extremely difficult since the majority of the season is archery only, with the exception of two weekends for shotgun or muzzleloader. Bating is not allowed, and neither are center fire rifles. (Setting up 100 yards from a feeder and sitting in a nice cozy blind like you would in Texas is out of the question.) You must scout the land, find the trails, scrapes and rubs, and really hunt. What a novel idea. These deer are not genetically altered, they’re not tagged, and they’re not constrained by high fences. They are corn fed (by corn fields, not feeders) and are as wild as wild can be. That’s what makes this trip so enjoyable for me. It’s hunting in its purest and fairest form. No feeders, no high powered rifles, no high fences, no big deer blinds to lounge in, just you in tree with a bow. With this being said, it is close to impossible to get a mature buck to come within 40 yards. These deer are big (some push 300 lbs.), smart, and wily. You better bring your “A” game to bag one of these bruisers.
This trip to Shane’s is by far my most favorite hunting trip of the year. Not only is it a chance to bag a monster whitetail, but hanging with Shane in the infamous “Mouse House” is an experience in itself. The Mouse House is where we stay, and it is nothing short of paradise (depending on your definition of paradise). This house has nothing to do with Walt Disney; it gets its name from the inhabitants in which you share the house with. The mice don’t bother us, and we don’t bother them. It is a converted barn with all the amenities of Alcatraz. No running water, not stove, no insulation, and definitely no maid service. (But it does have satellite TV with about 600 channels. So, our priorities are a little off. What’s more important, showering, or watching the big football game? If you answered showering, you’re not invited to the Mouse House.)
For my first hunt I choose the “gap” stand. (The “gap” is situated with a cut corn field on one side and hardwood thicket on the other. It is on a point between a CRP field and the corn field, so a lot of traffic goes back and forth between bedding and feeding.) I get situated, brimming with excitement and optimism.
Within minutes there are deer moving out in the corn field. I look behind me and see a doe running through the field with a young buck on her heels, hot in pursuit. They both cross into the thicket about 35 yards behind me. It gets my blood pumpin to have a buck already come within range.
A few minutes later, I look behind me again and see a wide, heavy, white antlered nine point come bounding through the field following the scent of the doe that just passed through. I stand up and get my bow ready. I can’t believe I might get my buck on the very first hunt. (I wonder to myself what I might do for the next 5 days if I kill this deer) I take another look through my binoculars and confirm that it is a shooter buck. My body starts to shiver as I clamp my release on my string. I turn to get in the best position, assuming he will enter as the doe and young buck did, allowing me a perfect broadside shot in an ample shooting lane. I take a deep breath as the deer comes into sight from behind the tree I am perched.
The buck enters a bit deeper, darting behind some trees just out of range, not allowing me to even draw back my arrow. I watch helplessly as he scoots away, mouth open, blindly following the hot doe, not realizing how close he came to his demise. I sit back down, heart pounding, feeling frustrated but energized. I continue to see bucks moving across the corn field far out of range. In total, I see 7 bucks on my first hunt, what a way to start.
Shane and I head back to the Mouse House to warm up. We are greeted by Mike. (Mike sold the land to Shane and grew up about half a mile from the Mouse House.) He is a great guy who knows this land like the back of his hand.
By now we are starving, luckily Shane’s mom sent some chili with him, because we didn’t have time to stop at the grocery store on the way out. We warm up two big bowls of chili, flip on the TV, and chew the craw with Shane and Mike. Good friends, hot chili, and monster whitetails, it doesn’t get any better. We hit the sack around 10:00 p.m. with visions of racks dancing in our heads.
Up at 5:15. 23 degrees and a slight wind…perfect. I rustle Shane out of bed and make a fresh pot of coffee. I get completely dressed and harass Shane to hurry up and do the same. (He doesn’t move quit as quickly as I do in the morning.) I finally get him in the cart and we are off.
Once it was legal shooting light, I start to see lots of deer movement out in the field. Mainly 2.5-3.5 yr old bucks competing for the doe’s attention, strutting and doing there best to look dominant. I am on the edge of my seat, watching all these bucks prance around in an open field with out a care in the world.
(Then a strange thing happened, in the middle of the hunt, the wind picks up a bit and like a switch, the leaves in the trees started to fall. Now I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods and have never seen anything like this. It’s like every leaf decided at that exact moment it was time to fall to the forest floor. It is literally raining leaves. Scratch that, its pouring leaves. The sound was the most amazing part; you wouldn’t believe the acoustics of millions of leaves hitting the ground at the same time. It was defining. (I definitely wasn’t going to be hearing any deer approaching.) I try to video the event to show my wife and family, but the video doesn’t do it justice. Just like most natural sights and sounds, you have to be there to grasp the true beauty. I get goose bumps as I thank my lucky stars for the blessings I am given. I am so lucky to get these types of opportunities to drink in the wonder of Mother Nature. You just never know what you’re going to see in the wild.)
Now back to the hunting. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a buck enter the picture from the CRP field. He is noticeably bigger then the other boys playin’ out in the field. I quickly throw up my binocs and see that is the same nine point from the previous evening. He is following a doe and the doe is heading straight towards me. (I can’t believe I’m getting another chance at this “wide nine.”) I had already ranged a rut mark in the field that was about 40 yards away. If I could get him inside that, he was a goner. I attach my release and wait while the doe slowly feeds closer and closer to me with the buck moseying lovingly behind. The doe is now in range. I just need to buck to take about 5 more steps and he would be in a clear opening 35-40 yards away. The suspense is killing me. The buck of a lifetime is 55 yards away and completely oblivious to my presence. I slowly turn my body in the best possible position and wait. The buck starts to inch forward when all of a sudden his head darts to his right. From the CRP field, I see a little black dot jogging across the field straight for my buck. It’s a coyote. The big buck spins on his hoof and runs for the thicket on the other side of the corn field! You’ve got to be kidding me. I slump down in my seat and throw every cuss word I know at that darn coyote. I hang my bow back up, pondering the odds of that really happening.
Shane and I book it back to the Mouse House, both chomping at the bit to pour a big cup of Joe. (Is there a coffee in the world that tastes better then the one after a cold morning hunt?) We scarf down some oatmeal and powdered donuts (breakfast of champions).
For the evening hunt, I decide to go away from the “gap” stand and hunt a hanger stand in a thicket on the east side of the property. Multiple does and young bucks cruise by right below my stand, but none cause me to reach for my bow.